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Dallas council members want to crack down on unregulated boarding houses amidst housing shortage

Dallas city council members want more oversight of "boarding home facilities" and have increased fines for those operating without a permit.
City of Dallas
Dallas city council members want more oversight of "boarding home facilities" and have increased fines for those operating without a permit.

Cities across Texas are trying to tamp down on unregulated boarding houses while simultaneously confronting a troubling lack of affordable housing and increased homelessness. And Dallas council members on Wednesday voted to increase penalties for boarding houses operating without a permit.

That's something recently allowed by a new state law. The penalty now rises from $500 to $2,000, and there’s a potential jail sentence of 180 days. But officials want more tools to deal with the problem.

“This council wants to really strongly support restrictions against unauthorized, illegal houses where the conditions that are mentioned are absolutely atrocious and people are being warehoused,” said Council member Adam McGough of northeast Dallas. “At the same time, we’re trying to navigate an increasing homeless number where [displacement] is absolutely an issue.”

Boarding homes have three to eight occupants living in a residential area, according to Andrew Espinoza, interim director of code compliance services. The residents, who may have disabilities or are elderly, are unrelated to the owner of the home. The home provides basic services like laundry and grocery shopping but not “personal care services.” A certificate of occupancy is not required, but a permit is.

Espinoza said there are about 160 boarding homes registered across the city. There may be many more that are unregistered.

Council members said they often hear from residents who want to know when a boarding house opens on their street. Another concern is that a boarding home has ten days to appeal a citation and/or register the property, thereby avoiding any penalty.

“There should be a penalty if you get caught,” Council member Tennell Atkins said at a Wednesday meeting. His district includes far southeast Dallas and has the most boarding homes – by far – of all council districts. “You should not be able to operate, because you should know the law.”

Fires at unregulated boarding homes in Houston led to that city changing its ordinance in 2018.

State lawmakers recently increased the violation for operating an unpermitted boarding home. It went from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor in September in order to investigate cases faster, according to a city presentation. Cities can now fine an operation up to $2,000 or jail them for 6-months.

Espinoza said city staff will bring more recommendations to the council’s Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture committee next week.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.